and this time I am going to try and look at the actual topic.
The government is telling us the referendum is about "giving a Voice" to aboriginal people about the matters which concern them". The idea for the Voice has been a long time in the making.
There is an extensive report about the need for a Voice written by aboriginal academics and activists Marcia Langton and Tom Calma. The report itself runs to nearly three hundred pages but it is reviewed here.
It is important to make several points here. The first is that both Langton and Calma are aboriginal activists of long standing. Politically they on the left. They have both been involved in previous (failed) ventures like ATSIC (the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Commission). Despite this they are powerful voices for the Voice and they support the present government and are supported by it.
The second is that they do not speak for all aboriginals. They do not support and are not supported by other significant aboriginal activists such as Warren Mundine and Jacinta Nampijinpa-Price. (Mundine was the National President of the Labor Party but left in 2012. He then chaired the Coalition government's Indigenous Advisory Council. Nampijinpa-Price has spent many years working on cross-cultural issues and is now a Senator in the federal parliament. ) It is differences like this which need to be noted as they show that there are widely differing opinions among those the for whom the proposed Voice will, it is said, speak.
The third thing that needs to be noted is that none of these people are constitutional lawyers. There is disagreement among constitutional lawyers as to how the issues surrounding the Voice should be handled and what the constitutional implications are. Megan Davis, an aboriginal activist and one of the authors of the actual wording of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, has been appointed to the Balnaves Chair for Constitutional Law. As a strong supporter of the Voice this has allowed her and others to use her position to make carefully crafted statements in favour of the Voice. It is reasonable to say that these sometimes give the wrong impression such as stating that aboriginal people did not have full voting rights until 1983. (Voting was not compulsory for aboriginal people until 1983 but all aboriginals had voting rights many years before that.)
As stated, Davis was one of the authors of the actual wording of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. This is what that statement says.
ULURU STATEMENT FROM THE HEART
We, gathered at the 2017
National Constitutional Convention, coming from all points of the southern sky,
make this statement from the heart:
Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent
islands, and possessed it under our own laws and customs. This our ancestors did, according to the reckoning
of our culture, from the Creation, according to the common law from ‘time immemorial’, and according to science more than 60,000
sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the
ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached
thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This
link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It
has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the
How could it be otherwise? That
peoples possessed a land for sixty millennia
and this sacred link disappears from world history in merely the last two
With substantive constitutional
change and structural reform, we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine
through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood.
Proportionally, we are the most
incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our
children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be
because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in
obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future.
dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem.
This is the torment of our powerlessness.
We seek constitutional reforms to
empower our people and take a rightful
place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children
will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to
We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.
Makarrata is the culmination of our
agenda: the coming together after a
struggle. It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship
with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on
justice and self-determination.
We seek a Makarrata Commission to
supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations
and truth-telling about our history.
1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek
to be heard. We leave
base camp and start our trek
across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.
This statement is, quite naturally, a highly political one. It also raises a number of questions which need to be addressed before a referendum is held. I will try to start raising those next.